May 19, 1998

Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) deplore the assassination on May 16 in Nairobi of the outstanding Rwandan political leader Seth Sendashonga.

A man of principle and courage, Sendashonga was widely hailed as a leader of moderation. A second person, an unidentified driver, was slain at the same time.

Leader of a student movement opposed to Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, Sendashonga left Rwanda in 1975. Sendashonga, a Hutu, was recruited by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to serve as its liaison with the predominantly Hutu political parties within Rwanda that were opposed to the Habyarimana regime. When the RPF established a government in July 1994, Sendashonga became Minister of the Interior, putting his considerable prestige at the service of the coalition government and so attracting many other moderate Hutu to its support.

Just over a year later, he left the government to protest abuses by the Tutsi-dominated army against civilians, most of them Hutu. He had asked the Rwandan Vice-President and Minister of Defense General Paul Kagame repeatedly to restrain his troops, noting their abuses in some 600 memoranda addressed to Kagame. Several months after leaving government, Sendashonga fled Rwanda for exile in Nairobi.

Sendashonga also firmly condemned the 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists killed more than half a million Tutsi. In the intervening years, he refused to support the current insurgency against the Rwandan government because it was led by soldiers responsible for the genocide.

A first attempt at assassinating Sendashonga failed in February 1996, although both he and a nephew were wounded in the attack. A man apprehended with a firearm at the site of the attack was identified as an employee of the Rwandan embassy in Nairobi. Although arrested, the assailant was never prosecuted by Kenyan authorities.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call upon Kenyan authorities to investigate this assassination promptly and thoroughly and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The two international human rights organizations also urge the rest of the international community to insist that the assassin or assassins be brought to justice and to offer their assistance to the Kenyan government in this effort.